They met on the internet. Simply because not meeting on the internet is not an option nowadays. He was living in London, not far from Westminster, tall, slim and blond, tired of English standoffishness and the insincerity at fashionable dinner parties, and longing for a real human connection. He was 28 years old and his name was Sasha. She was living in Miami, the daughter of government officials from Moscow, a girl like an angel, 22 years old. Her name was also Sasha. They met on Facebook, accidentally, and started writing to one another.
He sent her some photos of himself: at a riding stable, during a game of golf, with the Queen at a ball and similar trash he was sick of himself, but which was usually lapped up by the retired models who were keen on getting to know Sasha more closely. She forwarded a few innocent pictures in reply: at the seashore, a bra strap off her shoulder, holding on to an ankle so fragile it looks as if she’s about to snap it with her little fingers. With a wreath of autumn leaves and the most enchanting smile – with half her face somehow – , a smile you won’t find in a single glossy magazine, and which makes you want to lie down on the floor and cry with happiness. Hair as silky as angel feathers and grey eyes – ceruleum and golden ochre, and a bit of white.
Suddenly, on the spur of the moment, she falls in love with Sasha, with his mind, his light irony, his intellect, his whatever it is that usually enters a twenty-year-old girl’s heart longing for reciprocity. And Sasha, upon seeing such emotion, innocent as baby food, responded by falling for her. Mostly out of gratitude and heartfelt affection for this angel and for her unreserved openness towards the unknown and potentially dangerous.
For half a year they conducted a strange and thrilling correspondence, over the course of which they went through all the stages of love in turn, just like in normal life. To start with, they fell into some kind of frenzy and threw themselves open to each other in their nakedness, fully, even painfully open, and in their minds they entwined in embraces so tight you could hear moaning and the cracking of bones. They reciprocated antics which, in reality, a person in their right mind won’t even pronounce aloud. They were so intoxicated by their mutual openness that they both fell physically ill from this imagined ecstasy.
Finally, they experienced a moment of soberness and understood that they were both crazy, having caught such passion from the internet. And their emotions entered the calm, even state of strong domestic affection, meaning that neither he nor she would rush onto the chat to check, are you there my love although it’s four in the morning? Where are you over there? Are you sleeping alone? Or are you lying in someone else’s arms, giving you body to another woman and betraying the emotion we fostered and nurtured together?
Somehow, they never managed to meet up in real life. Although Sasha flew from London to New York and even visited Los Angeles and San Francisco, and even Vegas to try his luck at roulette, he somehow never managed to travel all the way to Sasha, a fact that made her wring her hands in simultaneous fear of, and longing for, his arrival. She herself would travel to Europe and spend time in Paris, Rome and Monaco, but she never reached the capital of England to see Sasha, who was horribly on edge because he desired real love, all the while fearing to disappoint her modest and innocent nature. The fear that they wouldn’t be able to satisfy their beloved’s high standards was greater than the desire to meet in person and share the bed of passion.
Half a year later the two Sashas began to trade barbs and have minor spats, just like in real life: where have you been? why were you not there? why didn’t you write? why are you so miserable? have you forgotten me already? It is impossible to tell now who started; at the beginning there was a temporary alienation, and later they had a very ugly row, an angry, savage, absurd row that included Faberge plates smashed and old, oak-framed paintings broken. There would be a period of alienation, inevitably followed by a raucous reunion complete with wild ecstatic sex involving whips and ropes and slaps to tear-stained cheeks, online, of course.
After a few more rows a pause ensued that made it clear that the emotions had reached the end of their lifespan. They met for a last time on the chat and spent a long time talking and remembering the injuries they’d inflicted on each other, but parted as good friends – although they felt compelled to unfriend and block each other to avoid heartache when looking at the avatars.
The end of this extraordinary love story would have been incomplete without noting that there was no Sasha in London. There was only Nikolai, a 57-year-old metal worker living in Kryzhopinsk, who collected photos he’d stolen on the web and used them to seduce his amazing female friends. Speaking of which, there was no Sasha in Miami either. But there was Peter, a gay man from the same Kryzhopinsk who lived almost next door to Nikolai. They had even met once and squabbled in the queue to pay their utility bills. The latter had been a bit rude to the former, and so the former had called him a “faggot”.
Translated from Russian by Josie von Zitzewitz.
Igor Ponochevny (aka Alyosha Stupin, a cartoonist) was born in 1967. He lived in Leningrad where he studied at the Leningrad Art College named after V.I. Serov. After working as an artist, he retrained as a banking attorney, while writing short stories, novellas and novels. In 2015 he emigrated to the US. He lives in San Francisco.
Josephine von Zitzewitz is a scholar of Russian literature and translator specializing in Russian poetry. After working at the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, and Cambridge (UK) she is presently Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow at UIT The Arctic University of Norway.
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